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July 28, 2010 |  17 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Obama's Grand Strategy and Europe

Erik Brattberg: The new US National Security Strategy should prompt the EU to get its act together. Instead of complaining about its position on Washington’s list of priorities, Europe should aim to recapture its strategic importance by focusing on becoming a more effective foreign policy actor.

The election of Barack Obama promised change. For Europe it promised a welcome departure from the Bush doctrine with its emphasis on preemption and unilateralism and from a transatlantic relationship plagued by divisions over a score of issues ranging from the Iraq war to the ICC to the Kyoto Protocol.

And in some respects President Obama has also brought such change. A year and a half into his presidency, Obama has already pledged to close the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention center, sought to revitalize the stalled Middle East peace process, signed a landmark deal with Russia on reducing the two countries' nuclear weapons stocks, and made away with the unpopular ‘war on terror' paradigm.

Yet to the surprise of many Europeans, Obama has also retained some of the core elements of the Bush administration's foreign policy. Take Afghanistan for example where Obama, instead of pulling out, launched a massive surge against the Taliban and stepped up the practice of carrying out drone aircraft attacks against suspected terrorist elements in the Afghan-Pakistani hinterland.

The same combination of "soft" and "hard" security approaches is clearly present in the administration's new National Security Strategy, released earlier this summer. Calling on the one hand for the US to look beyond its military might to seek partnerships with rising powers and to enhance its work within international institutions, the strategy also speaks bluntly about the importance of maintaining the "military's conventional superiority" and reaffirms America's "right to act unilaterally."

From a European perspective, the new strategy seems to codify another distressing trend in the Obama administration's foreign policy: namely, the growing marginalization of the transatlantic relationship. While the Strategy does refer to the relationship with Europe as "the cornerstone for US engagement with the world, and a catalyst for international action," it is remarkably silent on Europe's role as a partner to the United States, only mentioning the EU twice, and then alongside other actors exerting power and influence in the world. This view reflects the Obama administration's reassessment of Europe's limited potential to serve as a key US strategic partner in the world.

Faced with this bleak American strategic reassessment, the EU, rather than lamenting about Washington's apparent downplaying of the transatlantic relationship, should seek to utilize the post-Lisbon momentum to step up its efforts of becoming a more effective foreign policy actor, thus also becoming a more attractive strategic partner to the United States. This would entail a combination of three measures in particular.

First, the EU should quickly move forward on implementation of the External Action Service (EEAS), allowing the Union's new diplomatic service to begin its important work of mustering the EU's diplomatic strength. So far, the debate around the EEAS has precluded any more long-term strategic thinking. With Lisbon in place, time is now also ripe to update the outdated European Security Strategy.

Secondly, Europe must stand shoulder to shoulder with the US on its most pressing foreign policy concerns: Afghanistan and Iran. Even after an eventual withdrawal of the ISAF-forces from Afghanistan, some international forces will necessarily have to remain in the country, training and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces. Europe must be willing to share this burden with the US while also taking the lead on other civilian goals such as long-term economic reconstruction. On Iran, Catherine Ashton should resume talks with Teheran in close coordination with US officials.

Finally, it is paramount that European leaders resist the obvious temptation of reducing defense spendings in times of financial turmoil. Instead the work of reinforcing the EU's crisis management capacity - an area in which Europe has a clear comparative advantage against the United States - must be carried on tirelessly.

Of course, raising Europe's say in world affairs will take hard work and is by no means automatic. But the efforts outlined above should at least contribute towards raising Europe's attractiveness in Washington, thus paving the way for enhanced transatlantic cooperation in the years to come. In an increasingly multipolar world, the transatlantic relationship is ever more significant for Europe; the real challenge, however, will lie in convincing the US that the same goes the other way around.

Erik holds an MA in Political Science from Uppsala University and is currently a Research Assistant with the Europe Research Programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

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Paul-Robert  Lookman

July 29, 2010

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The author seems to argue for a return to the past in which the USA pulls the strings and its NATO allies come in handy to assist in American wars. As the situation in Afghanistan demonstrates, that is past history. Allies have never truly believed in the war, they just put on a brave face to show their Atlantic loyalty and enjoy the benefits of being in high favours with the only superpower. And now they are pulling out. Whether Washington likes it or not.

It is true that the EU should get its act together, however not prompted by the new US National Security Strategy, but rather by the changing geopolitical global landscape. In terms of economic power, the EU is already a major world player. All it takes to become a general global superpower is to get its act together in foreign policy matter. Again, not by continuing to “serve as a key US strategic partner in the world”, but to develop its own policies and play a more independent role in the world. In military terms, the EU can never match the USA, and it must not even try. “Classical” military power is not the key anymore in applying power. Soft power is the future. “What's the point of constantly using our superb military if doing so doesn't actually work?”, see Andrew Bacevich “The End of (Military) History? The US, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War” - http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/07/29-6.

Europe must no longer “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the US on foreign policy matters. As a future independent global player it must show Washington the merits of “soft power”. As Bacevich so eloquently explains, in recent history military dominance did not translate into concrete political advantage. China has come to terms with the end of military history. Without much fanfare it has expanded its reach and influence, emphasizing trade, investment, and development assistance. That is the way to make friends. And also Turkey's “Zero-Problems Foreign Policy” designed by its brilliant foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu is an interesting concept for Europe.

As regards Iran, in an “independent” European position perhaps Catherine Ashton should press the USA to follow the initiative taken by Brazil and Turkey, and rather than harsh sanctions that have never worked anywhere in the world, employ subtle and patient diplomacy. In my increasingly multipolar world, an independent and self-confident Europe must play its own role, rather than play along with Washington’s divide-and rule game whereby it acts as lackey to a waning USA.
 
Lauren  Tucker

July 30, 2010

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Paul mentions Andrew Bacevich's critique on the overuse of hard power by the US. Bacevich has written several brilliant books on the subject of perpetual war and the decline of US exceptionalism. I would highly recommend them to anyone interested. He has an especially brutal and thought-provoking opinion on the commodification of military service in America. Here is an article written last month by Bacevich for The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2...

 
Chris  Wilcox

July 30, 2010

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Paul makes a good point on the rising importance of soft power. However, I am not as certain that this necessarily means that it should estrange itself from the US. Given the reality on the international stage today, both hard and soft power approaches are necessary. If Europe indeed becomes more active in the realm of soft power, that could well serve to strengthen the transatlantic relationship. Each side could learn from the other.
 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

July 30, 2010

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With a challenging baseline “The new US National Security Strategy should prompt the EU to get its act together”, surely Erik Bratberg’s article has succeeded in opening an interesting debate. Glad to see that my “dissident” comment on his transatlantic views is welcome on Atlantic Community, and interesting to see that such comment can prompt two immediate reactions from the editor’s desk. Thank you, Lauren Tucker, for the link to the interesting article from Andrew Bacevich's article in The Washington Post.

As regards Chris Wilcox’ reaction, perhaps my clumsy English (not my native language) was misleading. To be absolutely clear, I am neither arguing for the EU to “estrange itself from the US”, nor am I claiming that hard power is “out”. I am arguing for a Europe, for NATO members, to adopt a somewhat more “assertive” attitude in their relations with the USA, and for Europe to develop into a true world power next to the USA, in the league of the likes of China, Russia and, shall we say, the non-aligned nations. In an increasingly multipolar world, Europe must find its rightful place. Last but not least, in the light of the post Cold War reality, NATO’s global role urgently needs redefinition. A debate in which members must participate as equals, not accept a US solution per se. And what goes for NATO goes for other international institutions: UN, World Bank, IMF, WTO, …
 
Unregistered User

July 31, 2010

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Mr. Brattberg, it seems to me Uppsala University is still promoting the " Swedish Corridor"
between EU and The Russian Federation, assisted and promoted by the UK.
Afterall Mr.Blair followed President Bush and now Mr. Cameron seems to be the attack dog
for the US State Department, re Turkey/ Pakistan.
So, as far as the US is concerned, the European Union would be sitting there, nicely packaged
under a NATO/ US umbrella, obviously excluding the UK.
We are now in the process of analyzing the " Colonial MIndset" of previous colonial powers and recipients of it and its geopolitcal impact.
Would this help us to explain, why there are still over 52 foreign military bases in Europe and
could it give us some inside why the EU is of such importance to North-America?

When President Obama arrived in Washington, he quickly learned that he could not find any flaws
with Mr. Bush's foreign policy, after he met the players at the table, except its delivery by a Texan.
Ms. Tucker and Ms. Wilcox must know West-Texas and would understand the two ingredients
to achieve one's objectives:

...military power and force.... for the extension of authority, power and influence ( hard )
...US-Dollar, the key currency......for the imposition of influence, authority and power ( soft ).

So, the recent recession was not without purpose, as it helped to create Banking Holding
Companies and effected a unique polarization of capital, while it also drained the EU of its liquidity.

At the end, governments of sovereign countries must( now ) follow requests of globalized international
institutions, while trying to protect their people's welfare.

This is today's reality, because a "Colonial Mindset" still exists and is in conflict with the rest of the civilized world.

HRF



Tags: | athens/ |
 
Darrell Calvin Brown

August 1, 2010

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I like the fact that Germany, A major EU player, is leading the way in NOT using "cluster bombs".
 
Rachel  LaForgia

August 2, 2010

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As an American, I was hoping that after the election, Washington would be more open to the "merits of 'soft power,'" yet as Bacevich suggests, the U.S. is still primarily concerned with hard power. Hard power alone will not allow the U.S. to maintain its global influence and political advantage. The question is when will Washington wake up and realize it, and will it be too late?
 
Lauren  Tucker

August 2, 2010

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I question your analysis, Rachel, that Obama's administration is not open to the merits of soft power. What about Obama's speech in Cairo? His video message to Iran last year, asking for a new beginning? Boosting recruitment and hiring at the State Department? The reset with Russia? These are just a few examples I came up with quickly. My point is, Obama has often stressed the merits of attraction over coercion, having seemingly embraced from early on in his term Joseph Nye's suggestion that his electoral victory signaled the triumphant return of American soft power. Have you had the chance to review the new National Security Strategy? It reads like a soft-power manifesto:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_s...

I encourage you to read a harsh critique of soft power theory by Abe Greenwald, entitled "The Soft-Power Fallacy." It was recently published by commentarymagazine.com and can be found at this link:

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-soft-power-fa...

In regards to some kind of "West-Texas" foreign policy formula, as suggested by Mr. Reuther-Fix, I see no such legacy in Obama's foreign policy decisions. It may be in vogue to judge Obama's policies good when they are 180 degrees from those of his predecessor and bad when he takes a more balanced approach, but this analytical device it too blunt to be of any use.
 
Unregistered User

August 2, 2010

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Ms. Tucker,

Your comments are certainly appreciated.
Ms. Tucker, it is not some kind of "West-Texas" foreign policy formula, it is just reality.

Certainly, one could express it like this:

America's "Hard Power" Application to other countries means:
Convince other countries to do what America wants.........
America's "Soft Power" Application to other countries would mean:
Have other countries (to) want, what America wants.......

The question: How does hunting people on the ground from faceless unmanned drones flying at forty thousand feet over foreign sovereign land fit into this equation. Hopefully would holding collateral damage below 8 % actually represent acceptable means for us (?)

Ms. Tucker, other countries already made up their mind.

HRF


Tags: | Obama/ Europe/athens |
 
Mike  McCormack

August 2, 2010

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Some here like to throw around the term "soft power" without fully appreciating the weight of the word "power" in that phrase. Is it any less right to enable cruel, corrupt warlords to run rampant over civilians because they looked you in the eye, shook your hand, and promised that all that aid money would go toward its intended target? It seems that too often people are able to ignore diplomacy's intended use--negotiating while standing firm to a set of principles--as long as they're not the ones who are directly inflicting harm. What goals are we achieving by having endless rounds of negotiations with the world's "bad guys?" It may seem reasonable to deplore the use of hard power over the last decade given the results, but just how effective was soft power in solving conflicts the decade before that? Power is ultimately about depriving your opponent of something they need to get them to come to terms, not about the manner in which you speak to them.
 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

August 2, 2010

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Rachel LaForgia: you argue that “the U.S. is still primarily concerned with hard power. Hard power alone will not allow the U.S. to maintain its global influence and political advantage”. With nuances like “primarily” and “hard power alone will not …”, I feel your analysis reflects today’s reality.

Lauren Tucker: I like your reference to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2... better than http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-soft-power-fa... The latter is flawed to the extreme. Just a few quotes:

Quote 1: “The American show of force also succeeded in establishing the U.S. as the single, unrivaled post–Cold War superpower”. My comment: I would not be proud to have achieved supremacy by force, a position which is untenable in the long term.

Quote 2: “…proved to hold little sway in matters of statecraft, while modes of traditional power remained as critical as ever in coercing other nations and affirming America’s role as chief protector of the global order”.
My comment: Who/what is the U.S.A. to play chief protector of the global order? Was the U.S.A. democratically elected in that position? Don’t we have international institutions?

Quote 3: “For what stronger negation of the soft-power thesis could one imagine than a strike against America largely inspired by what Nye considered a great “soft power resource”: namely, “American values of democracy and human rights?”
My comment: Are any other values than American worse? Is American democracy beyond criticism? Is America so exemplary in terms of human rights?

Quote 4: “America is not only a nation; it is an idea, an example of what can be done when people are allowed to exercise the right of self-government”.
My comment: America is not the only nation in the world in which “allows” people self-government, albeit not necessarily American style.

Quote 5: “They will not be converted by soft power.”
My comment: What gives the U.S.A. the right to “convert” other nations? Into what?

With all due respect, Commentary Magazine is a neoconservative publication, as the “About us” on their website clearly demonstrates (http://www.commentarymagazine.com/abouthistory.cfm) and hardly a reference.
 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

August 2, 2010

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Lauren Tucker,

You might like Chas Freeman's speech "An Empire Decomposed: American Foreign Relations in the Early 21st Century" to Foreign Affairs Retirees of Northern Virginia. You will find it here:

http://www.chasfreeman.net/farnova100324%5B1%5D.htm
 
Lauren  Tucker

August 3, 2010

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Thanks for the link to the great Freeman piece, Paul.

Commentary is indeed neocon - always a good debate starter. One of the most powerful neocon perspectives on the issue of power is Kagan's "Power and Weakness" (2002). Though outdated, it is still an essential read for those trying to understand this mode of thinking:

http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/7107

You make a good point, Mike, that soft power is often interpreted as a normatively noble enterprise and escapes close scrutiny. And the various ways of defining what exactly it means for power to be soft only complicate the analysis. I find your last sentence especially thought-provoking: "Power is ultimately about depriving your opponent of something they need to get them to come to terms, not about the manner in which you speak to them." Deprivation implies coercion - by your definition, the difference between soft and hard power is very gray indeed. An interesting intellectual question, but to get back to the point of Erik's article, a renewed transatlantic relationship requires the EU and US to find common ground on the 'legitimate' uses of power. And in my opinion, there are legitimate uses of power - moral relativism is by no means the way to a peaceful world order.

What are your thoughts on the debate, Erik?

 
Rachel  LaForgia

August 3, 2010

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Lauren--I did not mean to imply that the Obama administration is not open to the merit's of soft power. I agree that there has definitely been a shift from the previous administration, especially in the examples you have cited. In many respects, the administration has embraced soft power, my point was rather that it has not done so to the degree that had been anticipated during the election and that it may need to go further.

Haven't had a chance yet to check out your links--on my "to do" list!
 
Gregory  Kelly

August 5, 2010

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There is an aurgument that the US is a leader in foreign policy?

The current US foreign policy debacle is an example of what not to be and as an American I am dismayed at the arrogance of the current administrations demanding from its partners.

Before you chide me, we really have not had a coherent, successful foreign policy in the US across many administrations.
 
Bernhard  Lucke

August 8, 2010

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I really enjoyed the discussion above. However, I'd like to add kind of a "structural" argument. Many in Europe feel disappointed that the U.S. under Obama essentially pursue the same politics in many fields as under Bush. I however wonder whether Obama has a real chance for change, without losing face, or without questioning the self-understanding of the superpower.

For me as a European until approximately the year 2000 it was clear that the world's problems would be solved by the U.S. That was quite comfortable. However, the past decade revealed frightening weaknesses of what might be called "The American System". If you take everything together: hunger for resources, way of living, self-understanding, important role of the military, the financial system, definition of enemies and so on, you get the impression of an inherent weakness, of susceptibility to crisis. From that perspective, also the large military engagement around the world emerges as a sign of weakness, and source of fear. The foundations of many coming wars and terror attacks might be laid right now by the current campaigns.

I have more and more the impression that the American way of world leadership is in a way stuck in its own view of the world, from an European perspective creating more problems than it solves - although it is true that Europe has no handy alternative ready that could be communicated to its American partners, and is plagued by its own lack of vision and unity. It seems America's concepts of the world are becoming very different from those in Europe, and consequently American leaders must act in the way they do.

So the actual differences between Europe and the U.S. can be summarized quite easily: Europe is losing trust in U.S. leadership. Of course Europeans must act in a way that is in agreement with their perception of the world, and that will firstly lead to disagreement and secondly to friction with the U.S.

From that point of view, I also caution against calls from Washington for stronger European engagement. That will only happen according to the European perception of the problematique and in agreement with Europe's interest. An excellent example is the Iraq war. In my opinion Europe should have been more engaged: to prevent the war from happening. But for that Europe had to act directly against U.S. interests.

Time will show whose's perspective of the world is more realistic, the American or the European. I expect that the differences of views will deepen - this it at least what happened during the last decade. Sooner or later American and European interests will conflict again as long as the structural differences of the two partners remain and increase. The current situation seems as such: since approximately a decade, the U.S. embarked on a 'grand strategy' for a new world order that is increasingly facing failure, and Europe tries to keep out as far as possible. With the consequence that its role will on the one hand be smaller if the U.S. strategy succeeds, or on the other hand much more important if the U.S. fail.
 
Paul-Robert  Lookman

August 9, 2010

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In his contribution of 2 August, Mike McCormack argues that “some here” introduce the term “soft power” without appreciating the full bearing of that concept. To prove his claim, he refers to the action of warlords and seems to conclude that it is useless to negotiate with “the world’s bad guys”. With a score of 4, his comment appears to be supported by various members, and hence merits a reply.

As Mr McCormack is surely aware, the G.W. Bush style black-white “bad guys - good guys” and “you are with us - against us” approach today seems somewhat simplistic. I don’t suppose it requires hard power to the tune of $1.2 trillion, 8% of American GNP, to police warlords. Whereby one must nuance between internal conflicts (in which super powers should not put their nose, however cruel or corrupt the parties to the conflict may be), and external conflict, that do require action. Is it up to the USA to police the world unilaterally, or should we rather leave that to a world institution like the UN?

May I suggest Mr McCormack to take a look at the work of Andrew Bacevich on “soft power” and perhaps as a reference for America’s use of hard power “over the last decade” and beyond, to read (American historian) Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History Of The United States”. The full text of the latter work is available at http://www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html, a summary at http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Zinn/PeoplesHistory_Zinn.html. In my view, hard power is ultimately about pushing your “opponent” to accept your terms, as Howard Zinn demonstrates extensively and convincingly, whereas soft power is a matter of patient negotiations with non-military means, taking on board the elements that motivate the “opponent”.
 

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